U.P. is wild, bountiful

A snow bunting is shown. (Scot Stewart photo)

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” — Friedrich Koenig

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, it is still good to remember how wild and bountiful the Upper Peninsula is and how amazing the natural history of the area is. The recent snows have definitely softened the outdoor sounds and a number of individuals have noted how quiet it is in the woods. While the birding has quieted down a lot, there have been lots of great sightings of both birds and other animals.

The river otter family seen frequently this fall in the Dead River backwaters adjacent to Lakeshore Blvd. near the river mouth continues in the river upstream, frequently in the marshes between the Powdermill Road diesel plant and the former power plant site. The family often hunts fish, crayfish, and other aquatic animals together and puts on a very entertaining show as they zoom below the surface and emerge frequently with a bullhead or other prey to eat.

Wild turkeys continue to provide a very visible presence at feeders on Presque Isle. A flock developed on the Island during the summer of 2021, possibly as a result of a release of turkeys in the area. The flock continued on through this winter at nearly the same size, around fourteen. They have rather amicably shared the area with a flock of around 30 mallards and at least one American black duck/mallard hybrid.

A six-point buck was also seen out there several times last weekend too. It is a quirky young buck with a sure curiosity about possible food but is able to exhibit a fair amount of care and caution around people too. The deer and the turkeys do keep the pileated woodpeckers at bay in the woods while the busy crowd forages for food, but all told, four species of woodpeckers, both nuthatch species, goldfinches, juncos, and chickadees frequent the area regularly.

Red-tailed hawks are unusual in most parts of the Upper Peninsula, even in summer. They prefer open fields, often in agricultural areas like the eastern U.P. and the southern tier counties where they hunt a wide variety of prey from rodents to rabbits, some birds and even snakes. Several red-tails surprised birders in the U.P. this past week.

The Dafter Landfill in Chippewa County draws interest in winter as it draws gulls, ravens, eagles, and raptors to the possibilities of easy cold weather dining. Hawks are drawn there not for the discarded food, but by the rodents attracted to it. Nearly 1200 herring gulls and one lesser black-back gull were also seen out there last Tuesday. A second red-tail hawk was found successfully hunting at a residence on the Garden Peninsula not too far from the town of Garden.

As winter settles in, birders begin watching for signs of owls in the far eastern part of Chippewa County. There is even a website set up to help birders find owls and other good birding sites in the area, https://www.northhuronbirding.com/.

It is connected with eBird reports for Chippewa County. As of this past Tuesday, no owls had been reported this fall, but several northern shrikes had been seen and two rough-legged hawks were spotted to the west of Rudyard and south of Fibre. A group of 13 sharp-tailed grouse and a pair of evening grosbeaks were also noted in that area.

Bohemian waxwings continue to find plenty of food in the woods of the U.P. as increasingly large flocks continue to appear, especially in the Keweenaw Peninsula around Allouez. A flock of at least 400 was found there on Tuesday. Pine and evening grosbeaks are also showing up nearby and in several other locations. The waxwings seem content to feed on Ilex, Michigan holly or winterberry and some wild mountain ash, but if these large number continue in the area they may eventually move into more settled areas and begin feeding on crab apples and a large amount of mountain ash fruit still on some residential trees. A few cedar waxwings are also appearing with some waxwing flocks.

A single American wigeon was found with a flock of mallards this past week in Marquette on the drainage running from Hawley Street at Presque Isle Avenue toward the Dead River. This is a popular spot for mallards during most of the winter as the creek that feeds it runs underground through most of north Marquette and is warm enough to remain open as it parallels Presque Isle Avenue from about Union Street north.

The Dead River will also host ducks through the winter months, especially near Granite Street. In that area there are several feeder stations attracting waterfowl throughout the year, sometimes up to 600 mallards when ice can close off open water elsewhere, along with goldeneyes, mergansers, American black ducks, and occasionally scaup, northern pintails, pigeons, and wood ducks. Small numbers of trumpeter swans also stop there from time to time, especially in late fall and early spring. Their loud, bugling calls announce their presence sometimes, especially when they are threatened by eagles, owls, and other threats.

The recent snows do seem to have moved most snow buntings out of the area. Most have been feeding on low weed branches in flocks from just a couple to around 30. They will head south to mostly snowless areas unless there is additional food present. Time to be thankful for all nature has to offer in the Upper Peninsula.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.


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